Ping & Affie & Martha & Miz Zoe & I set off through the warm San Francisco night towards the Lick House Hotel.
As we walked, I looked at Ping & Affie. ‘How did the two of you find out so much about those Confidence Tricksters?’
Affie gave me a genuine smile. ‘Teamwork! Ping and I did some research and found damning evidence against them. It is not hard when you have access to a hundred newspapers, magazines and telegrams.’
‘Where do you have access to a hundred newspapers, magazines and telegrams?’ I asked him as we crossed Montgomery Street.
‘Right here!’ he said pointing to the gas-lit entryway of The Lick House Hotel. ‘All the best hotels have reading rooms with books, magazines and newspapers. This one even has a desk where you can send and receive telegrams. That’s where Ping found the article about two Confidence Tricksters named Chauncy Pridhaume and Jonas Hurricane.’
‘Jonas Hurricane?’ I said. ‘Not Blezzard?’
‘Probably another pseudonym,’ said Affie, and added, ‘A storm by any other name…’ He looked at me. ‘Would you like to see the Reading Room here?’
‘I would rather see the notice about tomorrow’s wedding ball,’ I said. ‘I want to know who that Black Widow has caught in her net.’
‘Then I’ll take you to our suite. It’s only one floor up.’
As Affie led the way through a lobby even more high-tone than the lobby of the Occidental Hotel, Ping fell into step beside me.
I glanced over at him. ‘I am sorry I pulled the wool over your eyes for so long,’ I said. ‘It is just that I hate dressing like a girly-girl. And I did not rightly know how to tell you.’
Ping did not look at me. He said, ‘I am not very good detective if I cannot tell difference between girl and boy.’
‘You are a good detective,’ I said. ‘Also a danged good bookkeeper. And a good pard,’ I added.
He grunted. But I saw his eyes flick towards me and then quickly away
Upstairs, Affie used a key to open a door & we all followed him in to a room softly lit by gaslight.
‘I’ll be right back,’ said Affie, and disappeared through another door.
Ping & Zoe & Martha & I looked around the room while we waited for him. It had Turkey carpets and wooden bookcases and a four poster bed just for Affie. There were books and specimen cases on just about every surface.
On one of the tables was a tray with a small gauze pyramid stretched over bent strips of cane. I had once seen someone put a similar net dome over a platter of food at a church picnic in Virginia City. It was for keeping the bugs off. But this one held bugs in. It contained my butterfly branch!
‘Look!’ I said. ‘My butterfly branch.’
‘Affie brought it,’ said Ping. ‘We took turns holding it on the stagecoach.’
‘Look!’ said Martha. ‘One of them has hatched. It is all crumply.’
I looked closer. ‘It is drying its wings,’ I said. ‘I cannot tell what species it is yet.’
Then I spotted something else in a glass case on a polished mahogany table.
‘Mouse!’ I cried. I stepped forward & sure enough, there was my pet tarantula in his little glass case. No: two tarantulas. Looking closer I saw that one tarantula was the husk of the new one!
‘Clever Mouse,’ I said. ‘You cast off your old skin.’
Ping scowled down at my tarantula and its husk. ‘Both look the same,’ he observed. ‘What good is shed your husk if you are the same inside?’
‘Eureka!’ cried Affie, coming back in with a piece of cream cardboard in his hand. ‘Here is the notice. Mrs. V.F. von Vingschplint is marrying Jonas Blezzard!’
‘Jonas Blezzard,’ said Ping. ‘AKA Ray G. Tempest.’
‘Of course!’ I cried. ‘The man who killed my bogus pa is the one in cahoots with her. But how did he get here so fast? He was travelling in an ox-cart.’
‘Maybe he got a faster carriage,’ suggested Affie.
‘Maybe he is not yet here, but sends telegram,’ offered Ping.
‘When did you hear about the wedding?’ I asked Martha.
‘Late yesterday afternoon,’ she said.
‘Do you know what this means?’ cried Zoe.
I nodded. ‘That it all makes sense.’
‘Also,’ said Zoe. ‘It means Jace did not betray you.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘He betrayed me all right. He just ain’t the one marrying her.’
‘We have to tell the police about Violetta and Blezzard!’ cried Affie. To me he said, ‘You have got to testify against them in a court of law.’
‘I cannot testify against nobody,’ I said. ‘I am a half Indian and WANTED by the Law. No jury will listen to me nor will any judge accept my testimony.’
‘But that ain’t fair!’ said Martha. She was standing by the single crumpled butterfly in its gauze prison. It was night & it was sleeping. But in the morning when light streamed through the east-facing window all his fellows would emerge & dry their wings & the net would soon be full of trapped creatures.
‘Eureka!’ I cried. ‘I have just had an idea of how to trap Mr. Jonas Blezzard like a butterfly in a net.’ I looked around at them all and said. ‘Will you help me implement a bold and dangerous plan? It involves us putting on a music hall type show.’
‘You bet!’ cried Martha. ‘Especially if it means I get to disguise myself or dance a jig.’
‘Yes,’ said Zoe. ‘Especially if you need costumes.’
‘Yes,’ said Ping. ‘I have been practicing magic tricks.’
I looked at Affie. ‘You would have the biggest part to play,’ I said.
He grinned & saluted & I reckoned my plan might just work, for by chance he quoted the same verse I had heard in church earlier that morning, viz: ‘We are your troops and we will be willing on the day of your battle.’